Effective Parenting: Discipline

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Positive discipline means thinking of discipline as a way to guide and teach your child about positive ways to behave. It uses discipline proactively. The goal is to use techniques that encourage your child's sense of responsibility, nurture self-esteem, and strengthen your relationship with your child. This may involve setting limits, explaining why a certain behavior is wrong and what can be done instead, discussing values, and using distraction, time-out, and natural and logical consequences.

Using positive discipline

No one technique of discipline works for all situations. The wise parent develops a variety of skills and approaches. Here are some techniques you can try that use discipline in a positive way.

  • Ignore annoying behavior when possible.

    Ignore behavior that will not harm your child, such as bad habits, whining, and tantrums. Never ignore potentially dangerous behavior. While it is hard to do nothing, this lack of attention takes away the very audience your child is seeking. Recognize, though, that ignoring annoying behavior works best if you notice and thank your child when your child behaves well. Behavior that you ignore tends to decrease, and any behavior that you pay attention to tends to increase.

  • Use facial expressions and body language to convey how you feel about your child's behavior.

    Facial expressions and body language can let your child know how disappointed you are in their inappropriate behavior. Older children can be told that their behavior has made you feel upset, sad, or angry.

  • Use logical consequences.

    Let the consequence make the point. For example, take away privileges that closely match a child's inappropriate actions.

    • If a child misuses a toy, take it away for a short period. (If the loss of privilege lasts too long, the child focuses more on resentment, losing the point of the lesson.)
    • If a child writes on the wall with crayons, have the child help you wash it and take away the crayons for a short time.
  • Use distraction.

    Try distracting a child who is starting to misbehave. This is sometimes called redirecting. For example, if your child has trouble taking turns with a toy, show your child another toy.

  • Reward appropriate behavior.

    Establish rules and expectations clearly. Then reward your child when rules are followed. For example, when the toys are picked up, you and your child can have story time. When your school-age child comes home from school on time, they can have a friend over.

  • Make it easy to succeed.

    Help your child to meet your expectations by giving them helpful tools. For example, rearrange space where items regularly are not picked up, such as adding baskets and low hooks for easier cleanup.

  • Model correct behavior.

    Patiently show your child the right way to behave or do a chore.

  • Use time-out wisely.

    You can use time-out to respond to dangerous and harmful behavior such as biting, hitting, and purposeful destruction. It's best to use time-out only when your child is able to understand its meaning. This is usually around age 3 years. Have the child sit in a place where there are no distractions. Explain what they did wrong and how to behave appropriately next time. Keep time-out to 1 minute for every year of age, up to a maximum of 5 minutes. Use a timer. After a time-out, acknowledge when the child behaves correctly.

It is important to continually learn and practice good parenting techniques, using different discipline strategies as your child grows and develops. All discipline techniques must be age-appropriate so that the child understands the difference between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Babies younger than age 18 months cannot understand these concepts.

Contact your child's doctor if:

  • You want more information about how to discipline your child.
  • You are having trouble handling your reaction to your child's behavior.
  • Your child's behavior is causing a lot of family stress or other problems.

You can get other parenting tips from your child's doctor, a local hospital, and national parenting groups.


Current as of: October 24, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.